October 8, 2011

Something Wonderful: Taylor Mali on "The Voice of the Neuter"

This is, like, so totally worth you while, ya know? And it works well, sort of, with the things over on the, like, sidebar about the totally hip interrogative tone?

Thanks, like, Jewel?

Posted by Vanderleun at October 8, 2011 3:25 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

The ego of the neuter screams overcompensation. Women just know these things.

Posted by: RedCarolina at October 8, 2011 4:51 PM

Link to his utube videos. Not good.

We could only hope that people have finally become too uncertain of their opinions to speak with conviction, but I don't think that is true. The descent of language has entirely different sources. Single mothers, public schools, and social networking.

Posted by: james wilson at October 8, 2011 8:23 PM

Don't forget Moon Unit Zappa, James.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=489pO9q8guA

Posted by: Jewel at October 8, 2011 10:43 PM

This is silly. Uptones at the end of sentences are annoying, but they have very little to do with uncertainty. It's the Californian Valley Girl version of a lilt, and its primary purpose is inviting interaction (ie, nods of agreement or further conversation). It has spread outside its original range over the last forty years or so, but that's not surprising.

And yes, intensifiers and sounds that cover pauses are often annoying, but every other English dialect has them too; they just sound different. Eyah is the Maine "like". Every dialect of English gives its sentences some kind little tonal melody, and Jamaican sentences don't use tones quite the same way New Yorkers do. Ooooh, news.

Most language changes are "led" (ie, found most extremely) in the speech of teenage girls or middle-aged men. Eventually the rest of the population picks up on it, which is why young men now talk this way.

Posted by: Maureen at October 9, 2011 9:25 AM

Also, nobody has ever gone around saying, "Those Scandihoovian and Germanic languages that end sentences in uptones are all wimpy and neutered, ja?" to your average Viking raider or hulking Minnesota farmer.

Posted by: Maureen at October 9, 2011 9:33 AM

Last time I checked, the Swede in Minnesota wasn't talking Swedish, with its lilt and twang. He was speaking Ammurican. His grown children on the other hand, all sound like fifth grade girls, now.

Posted by: Jewel at October 9, 2011 11:57 AM

All the identifiable Swedish-Americans from Minnesota that I've ever heard... well, hate to break it to you, but they still sound pretty Swedish even while speaking American English. (One may mention the movie Fargo and the little comedy sketch about Lutheran Airlines.)

And yes, the mix of dialects from people who moved to California includes a good mixture of folks from the Northern Cities and from the rest of the Midwest. Heavily Ohio and Michigan, true, but there's a heaping helping of Minnesota and North Dakota and so on. The perception of a "whiny" sound probably comes from certain elements of Northern Cities vowels being mixed with all this other stuff. Some of the pacing probably comes from the more Southern elements.

I'm sure there are plenty of papers about this.

Posted by: Maureen at October 9, 2011 6:02 PM

According to Language Log, one of the standard papers on the discourse particle "like" was written by one Muffy Siegel in 2002. This seems, like, totally fitting, you know?

This other Language Log post includes a whole bunch of "like" posts, including one wherein Pat Robertson used the expression.

Posted by: Maureen at October 9, 2011 6:27 PM

In the Valley Girl video line up at Youtube, there is an interesting video of Moon Unit and her father Frank Zappa with David Letterman. She is fourteen in the video, but speaks with the voice of a woman in her twenties. Missing from her speech pattern is the very Valley Girl she did so well in the song. Her cadences and lilt- Californian, but not mall rat, which was the point of the song in the first place.
Having grown up in Montana, where the Norskies are that state's version of Swede, you also hear a lot of Scandinavian coming through the rye, especially in northeastern Montana, near the North Dakota line. I have a recording of the kids in our family making a taped letter to our grandmother in Kansas City, which also has a twang all its own, not southern, not upper Midwest, but definitely Kansas City. I listened to it some 35 years after it was made, and we sounded Canadian! We were living not far from the border, so it isn't any wonder that the siren song of the Canuck should meander southwards into our mouths.
When I moved back east with the husband, to Lancaster County PA, the trove of dialectal wonderment never ceases! There are two dialects: the Pennsylvania Dutch and the Chesapeake. Whenever my husband gets together with his family, he immediately starts to sound like them. One of the changes our speech made out here was the pronunciation of the long o. In Montana, it was a really closed mouth o, while here, it is broad and wide, almost a long a. And the interrogative lift that saturates the speech of Generation Why? is exactly the opposite. When you are asked a question, the voice heads down, statement-like.
The first time I heard it was when my nephew asked me if I was finished using something.
Are yooz DONE widdat? There was no question mark whatsoever in his question. It was almost a command: yooz ARE done widdat.
And I was. And I am. Yet another fascinating discussion on American Digest.

Posted by: Jewel at October 9, 2011 9:52 PM